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Decrease of Deaf Potential in a Mainstreamed Environment

Wyatte C. Hall
Rochester Institute of Technology

Social skills are a necessary component of everyday life, yet when deaf children are mainstreamed, this is one thing they cannot be directly taught. The communication barrier between deaf children and their hearing peers can cause deaf children to develop anxiety or low self-esteem. Teachers and parents can also have a huge impact if they have distorted perceptions of deafness. The evidence suggests that decreased social interaction reduces what a deaf child can achieve in life.

Hearing loss affects many aspects of life, with many psychological ramifications and various effects on how well a person with such a loss functions in society or the world at large. A major portrayal of how deaf people interact among hearing people can be found in the mainstreamed educational setting, in which the majority of deaf people participate (Gallaudet Research Institute, 2003). It is generally common knowledge that deaf children face much more adversity than their hearing peers in terms of their educational and social development. As a result of this, their psychopathologies are impacted, sometimes in negative ways.

Communication and Social Interaction

Because of numerous economic, social and legal changes in the United States, placement of deaf students in deaf institutions has become less widespread, and mainstreaming is now the norm. This progression towards integration has resulted in much anxiety on the deaf children's parts (Gjerdingen & Manning, 1991). Good academic results are generally seen in deaf children who are mainstreamed, but they also show higher degrees of isolation and psychological problems when compared with students who associate with other deaf peers (Vostanis, Hayes, Du Feu & Warren 1997; Stinson & Antia 1999). One study that focused on the social status of deaf students compared with hearing students discovered that a large number of deaf students were rejected by their hearing peers as compared to only a small number of hearing children who, like the deaf students, also became social misfits (Cappelli, Daniels, Durieux-Smith, McGrath & Neuss 1995).

A critical part of the development of deaf children is their education, and through that, their social foundations are also built. During the primary-school development period, friendships are formed through common interests, school activities and sports. For these friendships to form, an obvious requirement is communication. For deaf children unable to utilize effective communication methods with the people around them, the difficulty in acquiring new friendships typically leads to a decrease in self-esteem.

Many children in general usually lack the social skills necessary for peer interaction. One major factor that has been identified in deaf children's social interactions is a repeated misunderstanding of how deaf children need to communicate with the people around them. Frequently hearing children mistake a request for information to be repeated as ineptitude or lack of interest as to what they were saying. The frequent need for physical contact as a way to attract attention, or facing the hearing peer when speaking can also go against social boundaries that hearing children have learned, which increases the chance of peer dismissal (Martin & Bat-Chava, 2003).

American sign language (ASL) is a very visual language. Communication usually involves one or more of these methods: touching, flickering the lights, and using waving motions, all to get someone's attention. Deaf children will also bang on tables or objects to feel the vibrations that come as a result (Harris et al., 1997). Their eyes are also easily fatigued because they must maintain constant attention to what is being said visually and this makes it easier for them to tune out. This is more of a problem for them than their hearing peers because simply turning away can cause them to miss out on information (Harris et al., 1997).

As a result of inaccessible communication, deaf students receive incomplete and inaccurate language input when communicating in English--they often leave out critical language elements needed for comprehension by another individual, usually the teacher. As a response, many students who are taught through the primary use of ASL would benefit much more greatly by using English as a secondary language. One particular study suggests that the low achievement levels that are sometimes seen are not results of learning problems related to deafness itself but are due to the poor communication between teachers and the deaf students (Cohen, Swerdlik and Smith, 1992; Harris et al., 1997).

The biggest problem and root cause of the increase in isolation and anxiety is communication difficulties fostered by the mainstreamed setting. A study showed that rather than being actively disliked, deaf children were neglected by the hearing students in terms of socialization (D. Martin & Y. Bat-Chava, 2003). Usually a significant amount of effort must be made for a hearing and deaf student to understand one another. The ability to hear as well as understand spoken speech varies greatly with each deaf person. The tendency toward impatience found in hearing children (and any young children in general) combined with unclear speech on the deaf children's parts creates a significant barrier to communication between the two (Foster 1998). Often when a child has any disability, people around him/her lower their expectations for normal social interactions that are suitable for their ages and stage of development. For deaf children with poor language development, this leads to a lower level of communication with the people around them, and it further exacerbates their language difficulties (Harris et al., 1997).

Deaf Culture

Behavior within deaf culture can differ greatly from standard hearing behavior. What is viewed as the norm in one culture is often viewed as abnormal in the other. For counselors without this understanding, the behaviors viewed as "normal" in deaf culture could be viewed as behavioral disorders, twitch syndromes, or resistant behaviors (Padden & Markowicz, 1976). An example can be seen in the fact that deaf children usually ask more personal questions and expect answers to these questions that are viewed by hearing people as extremely personal and not something to be asked in a casual conversation (Harris & Vanzandt, 1997).

Anxiety and Self-Esteem

There are generally three factors for deaf children that are directly linked to self-esteem. The attitudes of the parents are critical; parents who approach deaf children's issues related to their hearing losses in a positive way will then impact their children's self-esteems positively. Clear communication at home is also essential: if children cannot communicate even with their parents, they will not expect themselves to be able to communicate with anyone else socially. Children should also be able to identify with people within the deaf community, and through that, they will develop a strong sense of language and heritage along with a feeling of belonging (Bat-Chava, 1993).

Another crucial factor is how deaf children themselves perceive their hearing difficulties compared to their peers, teachers and parents. A study was conducted on how children ages 10 to 16 perceived their hearing difficulties as opposed to how their parents perceived them (Kopun & Stelmachowicz, 1998). The results dramatically showed that parents often underestimate how hard it is for their children to hear. The same result was found in another study focusing on teachers who had limited knowledge of hearing loss and underestimated the amount of hearing difficulty that deaf children would experience in everyday situations (Martin, Bernstein, Daly, & Cody, 1988). Due to the low number of studies focusing on this issue, this problem generally goes unnoticed and/or is considered unimportant (Caissie, Comeau, & Zheng, 2001).

In 2001, a study was conducted and the primary purpose was to investigate the perception of children's hearing difficulties as compared to their parents, teachers and peers' views. The study was mainly conducted in two Canadian provinces and the results supported previous studies done. The children said that they typically had problems with every day situations and for those that had some hearing, they had auditory interference with background sounds. The parents of the children, in complete contrast to their children, consistently reported that they believed their children had fewer difficulties in easy listening situations and less interference with background noises. The same results occurred with the children's teachers and peers, furthering the conclusion that situations easy for hearing people are much harder for their deaf counterparts and have much more of a negative impact (Caissie et al, 2001).


Secondary information and public knowledge is usually insufficient for typical deaf and hard-of-hearing students who grow up with hearing parents, and they will have many gaps in general knowledge. Unlike hearing children, deaf children do not listen in on adult conversations, TV, radio, and the news. They only know what is specifically taught or communicated to them. (Harris et al., 1997) All of these things can mislead a counselor to believe the child has a learning or behavior disorder when in fact it is the environment around them that is causing these specific issues.

A significant problem with counseling and treatment is the use of psychological testing to determine specific issues that deaf children might have. Because of the way they communicate, through the use of their hands and eyes, verbal tests are extremely ineffective and should not be used. Additionally, many deaf people find English-based questionnaires to be confusing and misleading which basically renders existing personality inventories and self-administered tests useless (Steinberg, 1991).

So without the use of standardized tests, counselors lacking knowledge of American Sign Language (ASL) are crippled in how to analyze a deaf child. Also, for psychologists who are unfamiliar with deaf children, their hearing loss might be considered the primary focus for therapy when these children have the same range of issues as their hearing peers (Hauser, Isquith, & Willis, in press).

Due to the extreme shortage of psychologists and counselors that are able to work with deaf people, especially children, many social and psychological developmental issues tend to arise with deaf children, which few people are able to solve and treat. A way for hearing counselors to treat deaf children is to use an interpreter, but this strategy often leaves the child feeling very intimidated and unwilling to talk with another person in the room. The implementation of an interpreter also has an enormous impact on the therapy process itself in changing the patient-therapist relation in such a way that it becomes ineffective (Wohl, 1995). Frequently deaf children have less positive self-images of themselves when compared to similar children who are hearing (Meadow, 1980). This is often a result of a stunted growth in language development. Numerous theories have emerged in an attempt to explain this, including one that describes the fact that many hearing parents do not realize for a long time that their children are deaf (usually at the infant stage), and so do not address the unique communication barriers until after the critical linguistics stage (Marschark, 2000).

Coping Strategies

Coping strategies were researched to see what children could use to reduce the emotional impact of stressful situations. First they offer a distinction between two categories of coping, problem-focused and emotion-focused. (D. Martin and Y. Bat-Chava, 2003) Problem-focused coping is directed outwards while emotion-focused coping is the opposite, directed inwards (Folkman & Lazarus, 1988). The main difference between the two is that problem-focused coping pertains to strategies used against the stressor itself, and emotion-focused coping focuses on controlling the emotions that are caused by the stressor. Their studies have shown that problem-focused coping appears to be the more successful of the two in reducing the negativity that can build up emotionally.

A study conducted found that the use of personal resources (i.e. family members), diversionary and emotional responses to lessen the impact, or a combination of both were the three most typical responses to social stresses found in deaf children. (Kluwin, Blennerhassett, & Sweet, 1990) Another study (Charlson, Strong, & Gold, 1992) showed that children experienced the most comfort from being around deaf peers and using family members for emotional support. This study confirmed that deaf children benefit more from problem-focused coping and also supported the texts that suggested contact with other deaf children may lessen the negativity of mainstreaming on their relations.

It becomes apparent that something must be done to change the way that deaf children receive education in a mainstreamed environment. The subject of educating deaf children will never be black and white; there will always be discrepancies in the opinions of those who are involved most closely and most personally in this process. Parents also need to be educated about their child's unique needs early on and give them early linguistic development that will benefit them greatly later on. The need for specialized psychologists is especially urgent in maintaining the mental health of the children in the deaf community. It is obvious how much the lack of social interaction impacts deaf children and their ability to succeed in life. Social interaction doesn't apply to just children but also teachers and parents as well. Their perceptions on how a deaf child goes through life appear to be almost always wrong and this exacerbates the situation even more so. Educating not only the deaf children, but also the parents and teachers is a must to improve the quality of life for the deaf children.

Peer Commentary

The Social Environment of a Hearing Family and Its Impact on Deaf Children

Tiffany L. Panko
Rochester Institute of Technology

The environment children grow up in is a major influence on their personality and how they interact with and are perceived by others. The family is one factor. The attitude of hearing parents and siblings in how accepting they are of the disability influences the child in different ways. Parents will sometimes influence how the deaf child's siblings will act towards him or her.

The individual characteristics of a child and his or her parents affect how the social structure in the family is organized (Stoneman & Brody, 1993). Each person in the family has to deal with the child's disability and the manner in which they do so defines how the family as a whole will accommodate to the disability (Bat-Chava & Martin, 2002). The child adjusts to the environment established accordingly; thus it contributes towards the development of his or her personality. Siblings are typically the first peers a child encounters. These relationships are important, because they can affect how a child interacts with others he or she will meet later in life.

The first obstacle in a relationship between a deaf child and a hearing child is overcoming the communication barrier. This, of course, varies with the individual traits and level of hearing loss that a child has, but deaf children with delayed language skills have more difficulty in maintaining an interaction with a hearing child. Nevertheless, all children are capable in using nonverbal communication modes, which is typically the preferred method in young children. They may gesture or point to objects, but this puts severe limitations on social interaction and pretend play (Lederberg, Ryan, & Robbins, 1996). Using gestures and pointing are usually limited to the room or the immediate environment. This dampens the variety of directions in which a conversation can go. Deaf children usually do not change the topic while interacting with a hearing peer (Lederberg et al., 1996). This puts control of the relationship in the hearing child's hands, and this imposition on the child usually results in frustration or boredom.

In addition to this obstacle, the attention skills of hearing and deaf peers may differ. Deaf children may not display good attention skills as compared to hearing children. This is because they lack the audition component that is important in the development of attention. Because sound is not a major factor in deaf individuals' childhood, they usually develop more selective attention (Smith, Quittner, Miyamoto, & Osberger, 1998). This is another difference between deaf and hearing children. The latter may view the deaf children as abnormal, making interactions difficult.

Some studies report that siblings of deaf children may be at risk for suffering from stress and face difficulty in adapting to styles of differing individuals (Vadasy, Fewel, Meyer, & Schell, 1984). Other children may benefit from having grown up with a sibling with a hearing loss by becoming more independent and more cooperative and empathetic. Whether the hearing sibling suffers or gains depends indirectly on the parents.

Parents of deaf children are more likely to focus almost all of their attention on the disabled child. The anxiety of taking care of a deaf child causes them to focus on him or her and to have less time for the hearing children. The parents also seem less accessible, because the children think they could upset the already anxious parents with their own concerns. Hearing children could believe that because the parents spend more time with the deaf child, the deaf child is the favorite (Kashyap, 1986). This promotes sibling rivalry between deaf and hearing children.

Sometimes parents feel awkward about having a child with a hearing disability and deal with their grief by investing a lot of time with the deaf child in attempt to make it a positive experience. The more anxiety parents feel, the more time they spend with the deaf child (Bat-Chava & Martin, 2002). This is common in mothers of hearing-impaired children, in that they experience higher stress levels and have a harder time adjusting emotionally (Quittner, Jackson, & Glueckauf, 1990). They experience increased stress from their hearing children, who are more moody and demanding then those without deaf siblings. Social support is especially important in encountering anxiety and stress, but these mothers have very few people who are capable of providing support in their situation. Often they can only turn to health professionals such as doctors and audiologists.

In most cases, when the deaf child has an older sibling, the relationship is negative (Bat-Chava & Martin, 2002). This happens because the older child has more difficulty with losing parental attention. This is already hard enough when the younger sibling is not deaf. However, when parents make an effort to de-emphasize the difference between deaf and hearing children, relationships are better. For example, a mother showed her son that both siblings have gotten picked on regardless of their hearing (Bat-Chava & Martin, 2002). The more openly accepting a parent is, the more likely the hearing child is able to get along well with the deaf sibling. Many even develop very close relationships.

Communication between mothers and their deaf children is extremely important too. This contributes to how the child's language will develop and how he will communicate with other individuals. Studies revealed that the children actually understood less than what the mothers believed they did (MacKay-Soroka, Trehub, & Thorpe, 1988). Successful communication depends on the skill of the child and the skill of the mother at adapting to her child's communicative needs.

Parents are at the head of the family structure and serve a major function in their children's lives. They affect relationships between siblings indirectly. The more accepting they are about their deaf child's condition, the more accepting the siblings will be. These positive relationships will be beneficial to the child and his or her future. Communication will more likely not be so much of a barrier to the child, and this helps him or her academically and socially.

Peer Commentary

The Future for Deaf Individuals Is Not That Bleak

Kelly S. Wolf
Rochester Institute of Technology

Deafness is not merely a disability one "suffers" from. Deafness is a multi-faceted and vast physical, social, psychological, and linguistic phenomenon. There are many components that make up "Deaf culture." The culture is a dichotomy of sorts, being split into Deaf and deaf individuals. Those who are American Sign Language (ASL) proficient and are actively involved with the community are considered Deaf, with a capital "D." Those who are oral and are not active within the community are deaf, lower-case "d" and are merely medically deaf.

Hall did not cover the complexity of Deaf culture. The culture itself should be explained before attaching such negative connotations to the mainstreamed environment. The Deaf culture should be known as a strong and proud culture. Members view their lack of hearing as a cultural asset; they live in Deaf communities, socialize with deaf people, and do not believe in "fixing" their ears (McGovern, 2002). The Deaf culture is highly segregated, both among their own kind and from hearing people. The ethnocentric belief that Deaf culture is better than oralist culture provides some anxiety amongst the deaf. The in- and out-group beliefs that hearing people and oral deaf individuals are not to be thought of as equals are an anxiety-provoking situation for many deaf individuals. Hall's paper alluded to the fact that having deaf and hearing interaction in a child's life may lessen the negativity of mainstreaming. Yet cultural beliefs make it appear as if there is a double-edged sword. It is necessary to reveal the opposing sides within the Deaf culture, because it gives the unfamiliar reader an inside scoop as to the magnitude of what one needs to take into consideration when dealing with the socialization aspect of deaf individuals.

The deaf individuals who sign are ridiculed and face difficulty in the hearing world. And the deaf individuals who speak are shunned by the Deaf community (Tucker, 1998). To further drive this point home, deaf individuals have always and will always be subject to stereotyping. No minority group is exempt from being a victim of stereotyping. Hearing people often attribute negative stereotypes to deaf individuals and underestimate their capabilities. Misinformation and ignorance by hearing people in relation to deafness and Deaf culture causes these stereotypes (Nikolaraizi & Makri, 2005).

Yet at the same time, although there are many adversaries and many struggles yet to be overcome, the negative portrayal of one method, one lifestyle over another leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy. Remaining a strict Deaf culture advocate or a strict oralist advocate and participating in ethnocentric attitudes is detrimental to deaf people everywhere. The deaf community should make it a point to focus on the positive side, for there is hope everywhere. There are so many solutions that can be implemented to help facilitate relations amongst deaf and hearing individuals. Instead of balking that one cannot fit into another's "world," educate. The implementation of manual alphabet charts in elementary and middle schools nationwide is an excellent step. Regardless of one's preference for communication methods, a deaf individual is still a deaf individual, and that common bond should be used to unite rather than segregate deaf individuals.

Parental involvement is also necessary for any child's well-being and sound growth. A component of a child's early education both in the school and in the home is socialization. The socialization process should involve exposing children to a diverse group of people and promoting cultural awareness (Frew, 2002). Parental involvement is needed, especially with deaf children. The deaf rely on one-on-one communication to get the majority of their information. Parents exposing their children to a plethora of people and situations will ultimately help the children develop more secure attachments and a sense of self than those who are limited to few people and situations. Hall's point that the attitudes of parents are important is true. Parents of a deaf child needs to be committed to making sure that their child is exposed in every way possible to as many people and situations to help enrich the child's life (Frew, 2002). When a child is sent off to a Deaf Institute, oftentimes the parents are not so active in their child's life. There are several reasons for this, the major reason being that oftentimes deaf children will attend a Deaf Institute up to 3 or 4 hours away from home. The majority of their time is not spent within the home with their parents. Mainstreamed children, on the other hand, live at home, and the parental involvement is thus slightly elevated by comparison with those who attend Deaf Institutes. Regardless of what type of school the deaf child attends, parents need to take a hands-on approach to child-rearing and seek out the best interests of their child.

Last, Hall brought up the fact that deafness is major part of the individuals' life and certain individuals will require mental health care to cope. There are few deaf or ASL proficient mental health care professionals, and they are in great demand nowadays. Deaf individuals have unlimited potential, and it would be a good idea to try and recruit deaf individuals into professions where they can help people like themselves. Also, Hall mentions that certain batteries of psychological tests are invalid for deaf individuals. This is a fact that should be stressed. Again, deaf individuals rely on what is directly said to them and what is available to read at a fourth grade reading level for factual information. Many standardized tests are invalid for deaf individuals for this reason.

In sum, the deaf community is compromised of many diverse people. Deafness, any way you slice it, is not a debilitating disease. The community at large should be educated further on how to interact with deaf individuals. Yet at the same time, deaf individuals are very capable human beings; we must be the change we want to see in the world. If deaf individuals feel that their potential is being diminished by mainstreamed society, then they should take matters into their own hands. The future for deaf individuals is not bleak; there are many untapped resources and untested ways to make life and communication easier for all parties involved.

Author Response

Wyatte C. Hall
Rochester Institute of Technology

Wolf brought up a good point in that I did not go into depth about deaf culture. However, many kids that are mainstreamed do not find themselves within the social circles of the deaf or have very limited contact. I should have gone into more depth, perhaps, but I do not feel that it greatly impacts the point that I was trying to make, which was that first and foremost teachers and parents must strive to make greater efforts in bringing a mainstreamed child's education up to par. I do not deny that socialization is needed, especially with deaf children. In fact, this point was brought up in my paper and expanded on quite a bit.

Panko's elaboration on the impact of the social environment was very interesting and would have been a good addition to what I already said. However, Panko repeated a lot of information in my paper, and I feel this only reinforces what I wanted my paper to say.


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